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This is the book Robert Ludlum only wished he could write.

Sniper's Honor (Bob Lee Swagger, #9)Sniper’s Honor by Stephen Hunter

Retired sniper Bob Lee Swagger (love the name) gets a call from journalist friend Kathy Reilly, who is writing a story on a Russian female sniper in World War II called the White Witch. The scene shifts to World War II and the sniper herself, along with her boss and her target. As her story unfolds in alternate chapters, we follow Bob and Kathy in the present day as they rediscover her story, one of love and war and fanaticism and betrayal, with front row seats to battles that will leave your eyes watering from the smoke of the guns. Man, can this guy write shoot-outs. The best one is in the present day between Bob and Kathy and those who would really they rather not find out the truth about the White Witch, thanks, which ambush echoes on a smaller scale the one that happened sixty years before. Both are nail-bitingly realistic. Hunter can plot, too, but I won’t spoil. Every ending in this book (I think there are about six but I lost count) will make you alternately gasp and cheer. This is the book Robert Ludlum only wished he could write.

I bought Sniper’s Honor at the recommendation of the Poisoned Pen’s Book News, and I tell you true, when I saw that there were Nazis in it I almost threw the book across the room. I’m so gawdalmighty tired of books with Nazis in them (and books about the US Civil War, but that’s another whine). I am so glad I didn’t. Every single German in this book is a real human being, even the monsters, and it goes without saying that all the characters, upstanders like Bob and Kathy and weasels like Jerry are great, too. I personally think this book is worth reading for the conversations between Karl and Wili alone. They’re almost the German Willie and Joe.

I was surprised to learn that Sniper’s Honor is ninth in this series. Why? Because it’s so damn good. Nine books in, a lot of series’ authors lose orbit and start to wander off character development, scene setting and complex narrative, sometimes even getting lazy in their writing. None of that here, vide

It was better not to pay too much attention to the machine or the men flying it. After all, what difference did it make? Knowing the pilot’s name and what he called his airplane didn’t matter. The airplane would get her there or not, depending on a thousand factors over which she had no control. The Germans would shoot it down or they would not; they would have already taken the landing site or they would not have; the pilot found the right site or he did not. None of it had anything to do with her. She could not let herself invest emotion in the idea of this preposterous little kite being night-navigated to a tiny landing field on a mountain plateau surrounded on all sides by peaks and lit only by torchlight.

and

One of the halls turned to the Germans and exhibited uniforms, weapons, communication gear, boots, all of it safely behind glass. Swagger stared at a dummy SS man in the spotty-leopard dapple of the late-war camouflage-pattern smock, heavy jackboots, with an MP-40 in his hands and all the right equipment in place, the bread bag, the entrenching tool, a holstered Luger, a foot of wicked bayonet, the haversack, that instantly recognizable helmet with the medieval steel flare that covered the ears and back of the neck and made every Landser somehow look like a Teutonic knight out to slaughter the inferior.

and

He and his three co-killers slipped off their rifles and put their helmets on the ground. each removed a gravity knie from a pocket, and with the push of a lever and a flick of the wrist, each popped four inches of the best Sollinger steel–Rostfrei, it said on the blade–into the cool air of morning…Each, as a matter of fact, hated knifework. It was awful. It was always intimate and messy and left regret and depression and self-loathing. It wasn’t worth going through for any nutcase paperhanger from Austria, that was for sure, but only out of duty to some other thing, variously defined as the Fatherland or Greater Germany but really just the other guys in the unit, whom you didn’t want to let down.

I have never been a soldier but I know, I KNOW that every word of this narrative about soldiers rings absolutely true. And Hunter’s women are badasses to behold

“That premise is no longer operative. You’re fighting for your reasons. You’re in love with Mili, you old coot, don’t say you’re not, and it’s the best fight you ever had. Well, I’m fighting for mine, which is that no asshole comes along and says, ‘Sweetie, do us a favor and don’t write the story.’ I will write the story, if I have to be Mili Petrova to do it. Nobody tells me to go away like a good little girl. I was never a good little girl. Good little girls don’t become reporters. Besides, the story’s already on the budget.”

Lemme hear you say YEAH!

Sniper’s Honor should be held up as a template for anyone who ever thought they wanted to write action adventure. Highly recommended, especially if you want a good cardiovascular workout.

View all my reviews

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